Travis: 'When we were massive, I was miserable, it was too much work'
Now in the 'second half of their career', Travis have a new album out later this month. Fran Healy and Dougie Payne talk to Andy Welch about catchy tunes and being rock star dads
Travis, by their own admission, have entered into the second half of their career. With their upcoming eighth album, Everything At Once, they are some way to completing the dozen albums they predicted they would way back in 1997, when they released their debut, Good Feeling.
"I think we'll get to 12 and be upset we have to finish, so we'll do 16," says frontman Fran Healy. "If we pace it right, we can do it. Set yourself a sensible goal: 12 albums is a decent career."
"That's a good brick of CDs on the shelf," adds bass player Dougie Payne. "But it's all about the songs and it will continue to be, I'd imagine. I can't see album 11 being discordant musical landscapes. You can spend your whole life working with chords and melodies, it's infinite."
It's hard to imagine old friends Healy, Payne, guitarist Andy Dunlop and drummer Neil Primrose doing anything other than being in Travis, really. As Payne points out, it's been "20 years now, and 25 or so as mates".
The new album comes just under three years after 2013's Where You Stand, which marked the band's return after six years away.
Even in conversation, Healy is a poetic soul. When talk turns to what it was like making Everything At Once, he describes how creating their previous record was like getting an old car out of storage in the garage, taking off the tarpaulin, tentatively making sure everything still works, before starting the engine and giving the paint a good polish.
"This time, it was like starting off with the engine running and all of us sitting in the car already," he says.
Payne chips in that it was also reminiscent of the The Man Who, their second album - and the record that catapulted Travis into the stratosphere, with sales of around three million in the UK alone, after its release in 1999.
"Back then, we'd write a bit, then record some, then go away and write some more, then go into the studio again, rather than doing it in a big block, and that's what we did this time," he explains. "I think there's a similar roll to some of the songs, too."
If Everything At Once shares anything with The Man Who, it is incredible brevity, clocking in at around 34 minutes (The Man Who, not counting a long stretch of silence between the final track and bonus snippet, is a shade under 40).
In fact, the songs on Everything At Once are so short that their radio promoter asked to have some extra material added to single 3 Miles High.
"It's probably the only incident of a radio edit of a song being longer than the version on the album," says Payne.
"That was actually the hardest part last time around, making radio edits, cutting bits out of songs we thought were perfect as they were. So this time, we did that earlier in the process, as they were being cooked."
Being on the radio is a big deal for Travis, Healy in particular, who still believes it's the best way to discover new music.
"Despite all the things that we have, Spotify and YouTube and whatever, radio is key," he says. "All the new things are good and have their place, but radio broadcasts all the time, and it's curated by humans, in the large part.
"I have radio on all the time at home in Berlin, and it's sometimes different music in Germany, but things will catch my ear and I turn it up to find out what it is. We all love that, and music still has that lovely invisible quality, where you don't need to see what it looks like, just what it sounds like." Similarly, Healy says he always has an ear on what will make a good single, not necessarily just so he can get on the radio, but because that's the music he enjoys; short, memorable melodies that anyone can whistle.
It's clearly something he's very good at. The Man Who, and third album The Invisible Band, were laden with the kinds of singles you only needed to hear once to have the hook embedded in your head.
The band were sometimes derided for writing crowd-pleasing anthems, or for the ubiquity of songs such as Driftwood, Writing To Reach You, Sing, and of course, Why Does It Always Rain On Me?, but countless songwriters would give albums' worth of more adventurous music, for just one song that connected with the public as those did.
"I like to write songs that get stuck in my head," says Healy. "I start with a 10-second-long thing that I roll out into a whole song. One minute, two minutes, whatever. Three-minute songs are fine, but when someone's walking down the street, they're only singing eight seconds of it. I'm not trying to write 'radio songs' as such, but that's the way I work."
It was that strategy which propelled the band to the position of one of the UK's biggest bands during the late-Nineties and early-Noughties, and while they might not be quite at that level any more - something they're more than happy about - they do still have a strong, huge fan base.
More important to them, however, is their own wellbeing.
"When we were massive, I was miserable," says Stafford-born Healy (42). "It was too much work. But we've never felt as in-shape as we are now, in terms of the music and the state of the band.
"What you deem success changes as you go. We've won the Brit awards, sold millions of records and been, you know, up there, had everyone calling our name and all that. But you get that, and then think, 'I don't feel successful; I never have a minute to myself'.
"To us, balance is success. Balancing it all, allowing the craziness, but also other things. I am a father - all four of us now have kids - so we have to allow time for that."
Both he and Payne talk about wanting to show their sons - now they're of an age to notice what dad does for a living - what their day job is all about, and Healy tells a touching story about plotting the route of a recent tour with 10-year-old son Clay, and telling him that, in his absence, he has to be man of the house.
Payne, meanwhile, recounts a gig last year that saw his two worlds collide.
"My son Freddie was at the side of the stage with my parents, and he kept taking off his ear defenders, so I was trying to look good, playing the bass while mouthing for him to put his ear defenders back on. Rock star dads for you."
"We've realised the important thing in all this is us," concludes Healy. "The four of us, not everything that goes with it. If ever anything happened where we got that big again, we'd know what to do.
"We have the band to look after, but we also have real-life kids to look after. The most important thing."
Travis release Everything At Once on April 29 and begin a UK tour on May 6. Visit www.travisonline.com for more information